7.11.2008

Surprise Music Review! Top Critters

I'm not sure I'm remotely qualified to be writing music reviews. I'm not a musician. Nor what I consider to be a particularly critical listener. My ear is rather underdeveloped compared to the many more musical around me. My experience of music is pretty raw and uneducated. I'm not an insider by any stretch of the term. So take my amateur hack opinions for what they're worth. Anything with a danceable beat pretty much goes straight to my butt. Anything else that's going to move me, either has to hit me on a visceral, emotional level that I don't consciously understand but find myself responding to regardless and/or have some bright insightful lyrics that really light up my imagination. Between work, family, school- I hardly have any time to attend shows. I only really try to make it out for bands I already know I love, so it is increasingly rare for me to encounter new live music that really thrills me. But...

Just my luck! Last night at the Balazo Gallery in a surprise birthday party line up for Citizen Hero guitar player Jason Coffey, I heard the Top Critters play for my first time ever and could not have been more pleasantly surprised. In truth, I kind of geeked out on them. It's so seldom that I randomly come across a band that I really like– and I really f*cking adored them. They're a five piece instrumental band, no vocalist- but Phil Dumesnil, taking bow to banjo or hugging that accordian, makes them sing just as sweet. Between him and Asa Sanchez on the organ/piano, they don't need a vocalist.

Their sound is achingly melodic, a whole range of sentiments pouring out, rich, nostalgic, haunting- but not too sad, orchestral, playful, and at times even slightly suggesting some whispers of industrial noisy compassion. Maybe? There's an unexpectedly cool folky lightness achieved in the rhythm and melodies when combined with a pervasive density that seems inevitably urban, a little tough and gently crushing, night lit, and contemporary. Something like that? Anyway, my kind of shit to a T. Like I said, I geeked out. The musicians filled the space beautifully, a kind of rare "just-so" gig, with tripping melodies, uncountable humming strings, and well laced, gorgeously executed rhythms from Andy Pitman on the bass and the-future's-so-bright Chris Gonzales inhabiting the drums. I love an amplified acoustic guitar in the hands of a loving guitarist. Mike Dineen did not disappoint. Top Critters were deliciously loud and the levels were clear, allowing the resonance to just fill me to the brim, worry free, and carry my rather heavily stoned spirit away. Between all the punk and hip hop that predominates most of the accidental live music I encounter, I feel sometimes like I'd give blood just hear a long thoughtful melody, just for the sake of long thoughtful melodies.

The folk instruments tap freely into all that american traditional stuff, but Top Critters innovates those sounds into incredibly creative, ardent explorations. It's unashamedly pretty and very smart. They've been together in various combinations for a couple of years. (So they say.) They sound incredibly tight, professional but effortless, not over-rehearsed, like they still genuinely listen and respond to each other when they play- in a way that suggests some musical mind melding miracle where they're just making this perfectly proportioned stuff up as they go along.

Top Critters remind me of some of my favorite amplified, heavy melody, instrumentalists but part of my geek-out factor was how uniquely they pull their own compositions together. For the sake of references (which I draw from a pretty limited pool), I'll say a little Tortoise, El Ten Eleven, the more acoustic/melodic moments of Yo La Tengo, and maybe you caught the Clark Brothers winning last season's contest of "The Next Great American Band" ? They remind my much more musically wired boyfriend of "Mogwai with a hint Secret Chiefs Three style melodies." In addition, they were very nice guys. They took my unexpectedly gushing geek-out fandom in stride, justifiably proud, but blushing and unassumingly modest.

The Balazo was a perfectly sized venue, all dark with warm dreamy lightings, and a perfectly sized, unsuspecting, happily gathered together, crowd. The staff there were super kind, laid back but in charge, and my $6 mojito was the best I've had in many a moon.

DUDE!– and they play TONIGHT!
7PM @ Thrillhouse Records
3422 Mission Street, SF. All Ages. Admission by donations.


Score! Top Critters downloads available on their MySpace...
Hear them for yourself!

Top Critters are: Mike Dineen - acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar (ex-M.D. 20/20, ex-Smirk). Phil Dumesnil - accordian, banjo, slide whistle (Foibles, Best Pals). Chris Gonzales - percussion (Gargantula, Gibbs, ex-Comets on Fire). Andy Pitman - bass (Tall Can, Manger), Asa Sanchez - organ/piano (ex-Smote the Giant), Lee Tom - TBA (ex-M.D. 20/20, Gibbs).

1 comment:

martica said...

wow girl! beautiful! very thoughtful and accurate i would say..